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The Business of MMA: Anthony Pettis on managing fighters, Conor McGregor makes UFC 257 proper, more

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Anthony Pettis
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Anthony Pettis has spent most of his life in martial arts in some form or fashion.

He was five when he started practicing taekwondo, and his passion for martial arts only grew as he got older. By the time he was 20, he made his professional fight debut after deciding MMA was his future.

Pettis went on to become a UFC and WEC lightweight champion, appearing on the cover of a Wheaties box and inking numerous lucrative sponsorship and endorsement deals. Inside the cage, he earned victories in three different weight classes, and in 2010, he created one of the most viral moments in the history of the sport with his “Showtime Kick.”

With a wealth of experience at his disposal, Pettis recently decided to give back to the sport by helping up and coming fighters through his new management company, Showtime Sports Entertainment Group.

According to Pettis, he’s advised fighters about their careers behind the scenes for several years. But now, he’s actually using that knowledge to build his own firm.

“Honestly, I’ve been doing it for a while, just not officially, with my younger brother’s career, a lot of fighters at Roufusport, and we kind of have the factory for building great fighters,” Pettis told MMA Fighting ahead of his most recent win over Alex Morono in the UFC. “I started fighting in a Harley-Davidson dealership in Milwaukee, Wisc., that was my first fight all the way up to a UFC world title.

“So we have all the pieces of the puzzle in Milwaukee, and it was something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I just didn’t officially announce it.”

As a fighter, Pettis has worked with numerous high-profile managers in the MMA industry, including MMA Inc., which previously handled clients such as Urijah Faber, Cody Garbrandt and Paige VanZant, as well as Suckerpunch Entertainment and his current management team at First Round Management.

Through those journeys, Pettis has learned from the people tasked with guiding his career, and it’s given him the insight to not only handle up-and-coming prospects but provide the type of real-world experience that only a fighter could bring to the table.

“There are some great managers out there,” Pettis said. “This isn’t something where I’m like, ‘Yo, there’s horrible managers.’ It’s more, I know what needs to be done. I know what fighters need at all different stages of their careers. I’m doing this, [and] we have 80 guys that we signed from my first combine. It’s more of a fight family. I want these guys to be part of something that’s not like, ‘Here’s a negotiated contract, go get ready, we’ll talk to you on your next negotiation.’

“We’re doing Zoom meetings; it has to be Zoom because of COVID. But on mindset stuff, fighters that have experience, talking to my athletes, accounting, teaching them how to make LLCs, paying themselves salaries. All the stuff that I had to learn on my own, honestly, that I’m giving to these guys right from the jump.”

Pettis will still have a management team for his career, including the contract he just inked to join the PFL roster. But he’s hoping to build a roster of fighters at Showtime Sports Entertainment Group that features homegrown talent that he can grow from the time an athlete is just starting out to momentous occasions like signing their first contract with the UFC.

In addition to the management team, Pettis is also launching a fight promotion based out of Wisconsin that he expects to feature many of the fighters he’ll manage. (He may need to clear that with regulators, of course.) His idea is to give them a stage where they can compete while also building a skill set that could eventually earn a look from a major MMA promotion.

“It kind of just all plays in together,” Pettis said. “So the fight promotion, I’ll have a place to build up my talent, give them the right fights and then hopefully get them to the bigger shows.”

On paper, this may be a new endeavor for Pettis. But in a way, he’s been preparing for this for his entire career. At 33, Pettis still has plenty of time left in the fight game. But that doesn’t mean he can’t share the good, bad and ugly that has shaped him as a fighter.

“I’ve been guiding [my brother] Sergio’s career since it started, and I think I know what fighters need,” Pettis said. “I’ve been with numerous management companies, all different stages of my career, and I feel like there’s a spot that I can give back to these fighters a little more.

“Without getting crazy details, [I can help with] finances, mental health, the right fights at the right time [and] the ability to get into the big shows.”

A Proper Pay-Per-View

As Jay-Z once said on a remix track from Kanye West’s debut album, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!”

Former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor was listening. With his return to action just a few weeks away at UFC 257 in a rematch against Dustin Poirier, he is still looking after the bottom line by adding his whiskey to the list of sponsors for the event.

Proper No. 12—McGregor’s own take on Irish whiskey—will appear in the octagon on Jan. 23, according to multiple people who spoke to MMA Fighting on the condition of anonymity.

Of course, the advertisement isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. McGregor’s whiskey has become a mainstay on cage floors and boxing rings ever since it was first launched. In fact, Proper No. 12 has been in the ring for some of the highest profile boxing matches to take place over the past couple of years.

UFC 257 will be no different as McGregor brings Proper No. 12 along with him for the fight against Poirier. And while his main interest remains fighting, he may ultimately turn Proper No. 12 into his biggest money-making venture.

Back in February 2020, Mexican beverage conglomerate Becle, which produces the popular Jose Cuervo tequila, purchased an additional stake in McGregor’s whiskey company and now owns a 49 percent share. At the time of the purchase, based on the amount paid for the shares, Proper 12 was valued at roughly $235 million.

Given the popular trend of celebrities getting into liquor companies and then selling to larger conglomerates, McGregor’s whiskey earnings could trump those inside the UFC octagon.

Hot Sauce

While McGregor is busy with Irish whiskey, his opponent, Dustin Poirier, looks to spice things up. The former interim UFC lightweight champion recently partnered with Heartbeat Hot Sauce Co. to make his own “Poirier’s Louisiana Style” hot sauce. The spicy concoction has aged cayenne peppers and red habaneros to up the heat factor.

Here’s the official description for Poirier’s new hot sauce:

“Like any good cajun sauce, the recipe starts with the best cayenne peppers, fermented to round out the sting and up the flavor before finishing with vinegar, sea salt, celery and garlic. Add in a handful of red habaneros for an extra punch of heat, and you have a knock out sauce that can take on everything from heavyweight meals like biscuits and gravy to featherweight dishes like grilled chicken breast or cauliflower pizza.”

Over on, Poirier’s hot sauce gets a heat rating of 3 out of 10, so he’s not setting anybody’s mouth on fire. But he’s received nothing but five-star reviews, so people aren’t cooling off just yet.

Pandemic Loans

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage businesses across the country, the MMA industry has taken a major hit. But it’s not only due to a lack of shows.

Fighters who own gyms across the U.S. have been subject to lockdowns, social distancing measures and other protocols put in place in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19, which already has claimed the lives of more than 345,000 Americans.

As part of a relief effort set up by the U.S. government, a pair of programs were established in hopes of helping many of these businesses prevent layoffs or other measures needed to trip expenditures while the pandemic is still ongoing.

Bloody Elbow recently documented how these programs — the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — have been used by numerous people involved in the MMA industry as a means to survive the pandemic.

Dozens of gym owners were listed among those receiving federal funds including several American Top Team academies, the American Kickboxing Academy, numerous Renzo Gracie schools and Urijah Faber’s Ultimate Fitness Center.

Gyms weren’t alone when it came to use of these programs, because promotions also asked for support from the government during a very tough time when many regional shows depend on ticket sales to drive revenue. With most states still not allowing large gatherings, especially indoors, the regional fight scene took a massive hit during the pandemic. Promotions such as the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) and the Xtreme Fighting League (XFL) received funds from these programs.

One more MMA-related business of note listed was Onnit Labs, a supplement company that counts UFC color commentator Joe Rogan among its owners, which received $2.38 million from the payment protection program. According to notes from the loan approval, Onnit’s total 2019 payroll expenses were approximately $11.42 million, which helped them receive the loan.

Onnit reportedly retained 197 jobs as a result of the loan.

Big Card Demands a Big Song

The return of Conor McGregor at UFC 257 may be the first pay-per-view for the company in 2021, but the event will likely go down as one of its biggest by year’s end. In fact, McGregor just recently touted his previous fight, a dismantling of Donald Cerrone in under one minute at UFC 246, as the highest-selling PPV of the year with more than 1.3 million buys.

But just like a major blockbuster movie, the UFC knows McGregor’s return also requires a major advertising budget to ensure the buying public is aware of the fight and how to purchase the PPV.

Ahead of the event on Jan. 23, the UFC rolled out a new promotional video featuring McGregor and his opponent Dustin Poirier set to the sounds of a new Eminem track titled Higher from his recently released album Music to Be Murdered By – Side B. The multi-time Grammy winning artist also posted the new promo on his Twitter account which has over 22.8 million followers.

While the UFC promoting an upcoming card with music isn’t uncommon, the fact that the promotion was willing to pay for a track from an artist as popular as Eminem speaks to the expectations for this event. Licensing fees are based on a number of factors, but they’re much more extreme when you’re talking about a chart-topping song or artist.

According to the book All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald Passman, a song used in a commercial can cost anywhere between $25,000 to $500,000 for rights per year. Industry insiders say those numbers can go even higher depending on the artist or the song.

Considering Eminem is one of the most well-known rappers on the planet, it’s more than likely that he received a handsome reward for allowing his track to be featured in that promo for UFC 257.

It’s a big investment, but the UFC and ESPN are banking on an even bigger return, which is why that promo was spotted throughout the college football playoff games airing on New Year’s Day.

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